LESLIE ANN JONES
The Long Road to the GRAMMYs for Game Music
The Long Road to the GRAMMYs for Game Music
Brian Schmidt Sabrina Hutchinson Savina Ciaramella Yitong Chen Atsushi Suganuma
Anastasia Devana Scott Gershin Jason Hayes Scott Selfon
Leslie Ann Jones Sally-anne Kellaway Phil Kovats Sabrina Hutchinson
Paul Lipson Shannon Potter Wilbert Roget, II
Brian Schmidt Becky Allen Guy Whitmore
Andrew Lipian Austin Wintory Bonnie Bogovich Channel Chen Dren McDonald Elvira Bjorkman
Jesse Harlin Ken Jacobsen Kole Hicks Lennie Moore Max Davidoff-Grey
Nassim Ait-Kaci Penka Kouneva Rachel Robison Richard Jacques Richard Savery
Sean Zhao Shauny Jang Shiloh Hobel Steve Payne Sean Beeson
I hope you’re doing well. We dedicate this issue of The Audio Source Magazine to all the hard-working women in game audio. As we celebrate these extraordinary women, we still have a long way to go for equality and diversity in the video game industry. It’s up to each one of us to advocate for and engage more women.
Our cover story features Leslie Ann Jones, a trailblazer in the music industry and an inspiration to all aspiring women engineers globally. Leslie has broken down many barriers and garnered several GRAMMYs and other accolades throughout her career. We’re very proud to have her as a member of the G.A.N.G. Board of Directors and this year’s G.A.N.G. Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient.
This week has been epic with the return of GameSoundCon in person and online. The hybrid event was attended by over 850 game audio professionals from several countries around the world. The presentations were very informative, and the sponsors showcased their innovative products and services. The return of the Demo Derby was a big hit, and it was wonderful to catch up with old friends while making new ones at the mixer.
I’m pleased to announce that Nick Hart joined our team as the Communications Manager helping us facilitate the day-to-day operations. Lucas Fehring, our Events Producer, has been moderating monthly webinars.
A recent presentation was The Music and Sound Design Behind Arcane League of Legends. Please feel free to reach out to the Communications Team if you have any questions or comments at email@example.com.
As things start to get back to normal, there are reminders that some things are forever changed. Some of us have settled into the “new norm” while others struggle. Let’s continue to be helpful and a source of stability for our family, friends and colleagues that need us.
Best wishes!- Savina Ciaramella
If you haven’t heard (and if you are in game music and sound, it’s hard to imagine you haven’t!), there is a new GRAMMY category this year, Best Score Soundtrack for Video Games and Other Interactive Media. Yes, we finally have our own GRAMMY category. At the GRAMMYs on February 5, 2023, one or more composers will take home the first ever GRAMMY specifically for video game music.
G.A.N.G. served an important role this year as a service to the game audio community by acting as a vehicle for composers to submit their video game score soundtracks for the new category. For a number of reasons, most composers of video game scores weren’t able to submit their game soundtracks themselves for GRAMMY consideration this year. G.A.N.G. worked closely with the Recording Academy and was able to step in to help overcome this
obstacle during this summer’s GRAMMY nomination season, and was authorized by the Recording Academy to create submissions on behalf of others. In keeping with the core pillars of our organization, we provided this service to the entire game audio industry, regardless of whether they were a member of G.A.N.G. and charged no fee.
Since many of us in games weren’t familiar with the process of submitting to the GRAMMYs, we worked with the Recording Academy to help publicize the new category and educate composers and game companies about the rules, guidelines and processes to ensure that their video game score soundtracks were properly submitted and eligible. G.A.N.G. ultimately directly submitted almost two dozen game soundtracks to the Recording Academy on behalf of composers and game companies.
The road to a game music GRAMMY has been a long time coming! Rewind to 1998. That’s the year composer (and previous G.A.N.G. Board Member) Chance Thomas first approached the Recording Academy about creating a GRAMMY category for video game music. Chance had put together a group of 10 composers who worked on video games to help drive home the point that “game music wasn’t bleeps and bloops” and was worthy of its own category. At the time, game scores weren’t eligible to be submitted for GRAMMY consideration in any category. The closest category was “Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or Television,” but that—as the name implied— didn’t include games. The group spent the afternoon with representatives from the Recording Academy to help them better understand the game music landscape.
Who was the key representative from the Recording Academy at that meeting to press the case for a game music GRAMMY category? None other than G.A.N.G. Board Member and 2022 Recipient of the G.A.N.G. Lifetime Achievement Award, Leslie Ann Jones!
Several months later, the group’s impact on the GRAMMYs would start to appear. Although game music would still not have its own category, video game soundtracks were deemed to be eligible under the revised category “Best Instrumental Composition for a Motion Picture or Other Visual Media.” With the addition of “..or Other Visual Media,” game soundtracks became eligible for the coveted GRAMMY award, although as part of the category that included Film and TV soundtracks.
For several years, every GRAMMY nominee in that category, however, remained a Film score, including such iconic scores as The Lord of the Rings, Up, Toy Story 3 and Ray.
Even without a nomination in the Visual Media category, game music was starting to make an impact. In 2011, composer Christopher Tin’s theme song for Civilization IV, “Baba Yetu,” received a GRAMMY in 2011 in the category “Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists,” which appeared on his 2009 album, Calling All Dawns. Although not specifically entered as a piece of video game music, it nonetheless was the first time that a composition written originally for a video game took home a GRAMMY.
In 2012, history was made again as Austin Wintory’s haunting soundtrack for the game, Journey, was nominated in the (yet again re-named) category of “Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media.” Although Austin’s score ultimately lost the GRAMMY to Trent Reznor’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movie soundtrack, it was nonetheless a breakthrough for the game industry to have a full game score soundtrack receive a GRAMMY nomination.
And in 2022, The 8-Bit Big Band’s arrangement of “Meta Knights Revenge” from Kirby Super Star took home the GRAMMY award for “Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Capella.” So video game music has definitely been making its influence known in the GRAMMYs over the years.
But 2023 will be genuinely historic, with the presentation of an award created specifically to recognize video game scores, celebrating the composers, producers and others involved in the creation of music for video games and other interactive media.
Cheers to the Game Audio Community, and we look forward to continued recognition and success at the GRAMMYs!
Min He is a 3X HMMA-nominated media Composer based in Los Angeles. Originally from China, Min studied music at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and at the prestigious Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television program at the University of Southern California. She has been involved in the production of scoring projects creating commercial music for video games, film and television since 2015. Her music credits including ABC TV show How To Get Away With Murder, Netflix series Into The Night, Sony film Life In A Year, and Sundance animation Meal In The Plate. In 2018, Min founded Glissando Music & Sound Productions, a music team that provides original music for video games. Min has worked with legendary studios and production companies such as Electronic Arts, Veewo Games, Tencent, NetEase, and more.
Audio Source: How did you start your composing career?
Min: I first became involved with music at the age of 5, when I took up the accordion— a very heavy instrument for a young girl! Soon after, my parents brought me a piano. I started out like any student, learning songs by other composers, but I quickly became obsessed with improvising my own piano music. Then one day, I wrote the notes that I was improvising on a piece of paper. And that was the start of a composing career that has lasted to this day!
Audio Source: How did you first become interested in the video game world and start to write video game music?
Min: I was first introduced to video games when I was very little. My grandpa had a Nintendo Entertainment System, and we would play Super Mario Bros. and Bomberman when I went over to his house. He was 70 years old at the time, and it made quite an impression on me that video games could bring so much joy to not just kids, but people of all ages. Later, my cousin introduced me to Heroes of Might and Magic III on my computer at home, and this is when I really began to take notice of the music in the game. I was obsessed! I was just blown away that music could take you right back to medieval times. I still get goosebumps when I listen to that soundtrack even today! After that, I was really keyed into the soundtracks of new games that would come out, and I remember being a big fan of the music for big games like World of Warcraft and small indie games like Botanicula. This is what inspired me to study music.
I was very fortunate to have the chance to study music composition at the Central Conservatory of Music, the most fine music school in China, and later I moved to LA to study film and game music at the University of Southern California, where I got to study under master composers like Garry Schyman (Bioshock) and Bruce Broughton (Silverado).
After graduating, I had an opportunity to work together with the composer Photek (How to Get Away with Murder, Need for Speed), and as a classically trained composer, I gained five years of valuable experience working in the world of electronic and pop music, which has allowed me to expand my box of tools and to work in a wide variety of different genres.
I started scoring my own game projects in 2016, starting with small indie games like Zombie Rollerz and Pursuit of Light 2, and I was very lucky because both of these games were popular and got quite a bit of attention, so my music began to be noticed by other game developers. Through word of mouth and the work that I did, I keep getting invited to score more and bigger games, and in a wide variety of styles. These projects included Tencent Timi Studio’s CrossFire Mobile in a Chinese traditional style, NetEase’s LifeAfter in a hybrid orchestral style, the console game Neon Abyss in EDM style, and the console game In Nightmare, which had intimate and mysterious style music.
When I was asked by Steve Schnur, the President of Music for Electronic Arts (EA), to compose some Chinese traditional music for The Sims 4, I was thrilled! It had been a long-time dream of mine to write music for The Sims, and on top of that, I got to represent my culture by writing authentic traditional Chinese wedding music. It is such a wonderful opportunity for me to introduce a Western audience to Chinese culture through my music.
So it’s been a long road from those first days of inspiration to actually having a career writing for video games, and I look forward to seeing what the future has in store!
Audio Source: Can you talk a bit about your video game composition process, and where you find your inspiration?
Min: The first thing I always do is to sit down and have a conversation with the game’s development team. This is when they would share with me any materials that they have,
be it play test demos, concept art, references to other games and music, and the main plot points and character arcs. I always ask for them to share with me as much as possible, because it is all helpful in starting my process of immersion into the world of the game.
Once I feel like I have a good feel for it, I will sit down at the computer and make a few demos to share with the team. These are to illustrate the concepts and musical language I’ve come up with for the game so the team can hear them and give feedback. Often, we’ll go back and forth like this a bit before the concept and sound is fully dialed in. I always say that a composer has two jobs: one is to please the people that have hired me, and the other is to compose in a way that preserves the musical integrity of the music. So I’m always trying to incorporate all of the ideas and input of the developers while still creating music that makes “musical sense.”
As for inspiration, most of my inspiration comes from the game that I’m working on itself.
It comes from forming a deep understanding of the game itself and its story and visuals, which is very important because any music
that I write needs to serve the project first and foremost. However, I also find it is very important to always be studying, playing, and listening to new games that are on the market so that I can be aware of new developments, to keep the music that I write relevant and current. So I sometimes draw a bit of inspiration from that as well.
Audio Source: Do you have any advice about how to work effectively with game developers?
Min: My advice for working with game developers would be:
1. Always be clear and efficient with your communication. Listen well to what the people that you are working with are saying, and incorporate their ideas into your writing. If you can do this you are already 60% of the way there.
2. Always be polishing your skills and expanding your musical vocabulary. You want to be ready to take on any challenge that they might throw at you, regardless of style or genre.
3. Always be playing games! Play all different kinds of games. I know that there are tons of games being released every day, but you should at least be familiar with the most
popular ones. You should be playing them and trying to understand what makes them popular. And you should also be playing and familiarizing yourself with classic games that might come up during your meetings with developers. The more games you are familiar with, the easier it will be to communicate with the developers that you work with.
Remember, as a composer you are trying to perform a delicate juggling act: make music that satisfies the wants and needs of the developer, that fits the game, and (ideally) that everyone enjoys listening to. If you can find a way to keep all these balls in the air more often than not, you will have a great career!
Audio Source: You score music for both video games and TV/Film. Can you walk us through the similarities and differences between these two fields?
Min: Yes, absolutely! I love working in all of those media, and each comes with its own unique challenges. As you know, game music is non-linear, except in the case of an occasional cinematic cutscene. And it is mostly loop-based, so the biggest challenge is trying to walk that fine line of making music that is interesting but not distracting. Film and TV music, on the other hand, is linear, but you have dialogue and sound effects
to worry about. So you always need to be aware of how your music is relating to the drama in the scene, as well as making sure it plays nice with those other audio elements.
To me, the biggest similarity between scoring games vs. film and TV is that the music is super important! It helps establish the mood and tone of the world and also helps deliver an emotional punch when it is needed!
Audio Source: Would you like to share any current or upcoming news?
Min: Definitely! I’m currently working on music for some really fun titles: a horror game from NEKCOM Games called Showa American Story; Lost Soul Aside from Ultizero Games and Sony Entertainment; Evotinction from Spikewave Games & Sony’s China Hero Project; and two more indie games which don’t have official titles yet. I’m very excited about all of these projects and I can’t wait for them to be released so you can check them out!
Audio Source: Thanks so much for your time, Min, and we look forward to hearing more of your game scores soon.
Elias Softwares core ideas are to improve workflows and shorten the time between getting an idea and actually hearing it in your game. To do this, they have built Elias 4 around two fundamental ideas ‑ do as much as possible in real time, and move as much control as possible to the audio designers and tech audio designers. In the software, this is realized by something they call Remoting and by using node graphs.
Remoting allows you to connect Elias 4 directly to your game engine and update, add or remove anything in a running game session. Everything you do is instantly hearable without having to build, export, restart or reload anything just keep on playing! The real time aspect goes all the way down to the filesystem, meaning you’re able to hot swap or add new
This patch is the start of a system to control the sounds of a spacecraft moving around in a non gravity environment with thrusters and engines. Different nodes are for example used to adjust the pitch and amplitude depending on the state of the spacecraft.
audio files at any time. You can even ingest files directly from your DAW without even having our studio tool open.
A patch for a boxing simulator triggering both impact sounds and opponent reactions.
The node graph allows you to build smart audio and music systems within Elias 4. Instead of building complex middle layers between your game engine and your audio middleware, audio teams can now build, control, and test complex (or simple) systems in their own protected environment. This can mean simple things, like remapping values or evaluating multiple states, or more complex things, like reacting to multiple sources of live data from the game to build dynamic and realistic audio environments. With this being separated from the game engine you can more freely build and test without the risk of breaking things.
You can also start building these systems earlier and even test them without having a finished game feature available.
Other workflow aspects Elias Software worked on are, for example, making assets easily re usable between projects, a system to inherit logic so you never have to duplicate data, a version control friendly project structure, nice on the eyes UI, and much more.
With their history from previous generations of Elias, they also have a lot of groundwork already done. Besides offering great support and onboarding, they are approved for release on all consoles and platforms.
I was frustrated by how there was, at the time, no way of making adaptive music sound linear and composed to your individual way of playing a game. With Elias we gave the composers the tool to accomplish this and a way to author and experiment with their music in a composer friendly tool. Now I’m so excited to extend that workflow for audio designers but also to change the way composers and audio designers work with modern implementation.
Elias will always be about results and to accomplish your musical idea or your sound design you will need a tool that keeps you in the zone. A tool that doesn’t force you out of the creative process. Equally important is that you need to rely on the engine. You need to know that what you create works all the way in the hands of the gamers. That is why we spent a lot of time the last year on stability and future proof technology.
Kristofer Eng, CEO and co-founder of Elias
WHEN ME AND PHILIP BENNEFALL FOUNDED THIS COMPANY, IT WAS ALL ABOUT ADAPTIVE MUSIC.
Leslie Ann Jones is a force in the video game audio industry. She has recorded and mixed hundreds of AAA video game scores and has earned seven GRAMMYs, including two this year. Leslie began advocating for GRAMMY recognition for video game music in 2001. Her efforts along with other members of Game Audio Network Guild (G.A.N.G.) helped recognize the importance of the artform in the music industry.
Music has always been a part of Leslie’s life. She grew up in a musical family with her mother, Helen Grayco, who was a singer and recording artist, and her father, Spike Jones, who performed with his band, Spike Jones and The City Slickers. Her passion for music blossomed at age 14 when she was given a Sears Silvertone electric guitar, and she has been making music ever since. Leslie was the first woman assistant engineer to be hired at ABC Studios, and was the first female National Officer of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS). Leslie has had an illustrious career working at the Automatt Recording Studios in San Francisco, Capitol Studios in Hollywood, and since 1997 she has held the position of Director of Music Recording and Scoring at Skywalker Sound in Marin County recording and mixing music for records, films, television, and video games. She has produced numerous recordings that feature and promote women musicians.
Leslie has contributed to numerous awardwinning scores across all screens and has been honored with several awards and recognitions throughout her career. In 2019, she was inducted into the NAMM TEC Hall of Fame, and was presented with the award by her friend and colleague, Herbie Hancock. This year, she was presented with the Game Audio Network Guild (G.A.N.G.) Lifetime Achievement Award at the 20th Annual G.A.N.G. Awards show. Not only has Leslie trailblazed her way throughout the industry for herself, she has also paved the way for many women.
Audio Source: It’s great to talk with you, Leslie. Let’s start from the beginning. You grew up in a highly recognizable musical family. What was that like, and how did your musical journey lead you to becoming an engineer?
Leslie: My mother and father both influenced my musical taste, and I was a big fan of contemporary music when I was growing up. My cousin, Tony Greco Jr., was a songwriter, and soon he and other cousins and I formed a vocal group. I was about 15 at the time. We
had a blast, and even though nothing was ever released, we did get to record with musicians from the Wrecking Crew and other greats like Glen Campbell. I never thought about engineering then, but I knew enough that I was never going to be as good as the players I admired. Fortunately for me, sound and I found each other, and I realized the impact I could have on other bands’ sound just by moving some faders. I was hooked!
Audio Source: That’s a great story, and now you are one of the most sought after recording and mixing engineers. How did you navigate that in a male-dominated profession?
Leslie: I guess I just didn’t think about it. I knew I was one of the few, but at ABC where I first started, so many of the other engineers took me under their wing. I had great mentors who must have seen something in me. They wanted me to succeed, and for that I will be forever grateful. People like Barney Perkins, Reggie Dozier and especially Roy Halee.
Audio Source: It’s remarkable that you had so many generous and talented mentors to guide and support you in the early days. You have recorded hundreds of scores and albums with world-renowned composers and recording artists. What are some of your most memorable projects?
Leslie: That is always so hard for me to answer as I love so many of the projects I’ve had the opportunity to work on. Some highlights would be filling in for an engineer and working with Renée Fleming, my first sessions with Rosemary Clooney, working with Lisa Fischer and Jean-Christophe Maillard on a Lines Ballet project, and spending a day with Steve Vai recreating his amazing guitar parts from Halo 2. What a virtuoso!
Audio Source: Most definitely, and given your vast career, it’s understandable why it’s difficult to highlight only a few projects. You sit on the board of many organizations, including Game Audio Network Guild, Recording Academy, Technology and Applied Composition (TAC) program at SFCM, and The Institute for the Musical Arts
in Goshen, MA, which is a performing and recording institute with a nonprofit mission to support women and girls in music and music-related business. Please tell us about your experience as an advocate and mentor, and how that has helped shape your own career by giving back to the community?
Leslie: Well, when I was starting out there were no women to look up to, so it has been important to be visible, to be out and be present. As they say, you can’t be it if you can’t see it. I am fortunate now to have a platform, and I try to make the most of it. Also, my involvement in the Recording Academy really gave me a voice and the ability to be in leadership positions.
Audio Source: It’s terrific that you are able to give young women hope for a fulfilling future doing what they love to do as boundaries and stereotypes are diminishing. The game audio industry was happily surprised this year when the Recording Academy finally added a category to the ballot for “Best Score Soundtrack for Video Games and Other Interactive Media.” You were on the original committee that spearheaded this initiative
over 20 years ago. What has changed in the last 20 years to get the proposal passed?
Leslie: Well, music changes, attitudes change and scores have changed. Video game music has become so much more sophisticated over these past 20 years with highly skilled and celebrated composers in the game industry, and now you have feature film composers also composing for games. I think the combination of the two makes a big difference, and hopefully we will get a lot of submissions. The time was right.
Audio Source: It’s a very exciting time, and we’re all looking forward to the GRAMMY results in February! What are some of the highlights of your career, and do you have any words of wisdom for the next generation of female engineers?
Leslie: I know this sounds corny, but every day that I walk into a studio and get to sit in the big chair and witness great art being made is a good day. I love what I do and love my Skywalker family who support me in every way possible. I also love being challenged, so I don’t shy away from things that even to this day might be a bit of a stretch. That has always been true. And I have a life outside of work…or try to. Having that outside perspective is very important. If I had one highlight to mention it would be getting hired at Skywalker in 1997. What an incredible place to work, surrounded by such talent. It’s the kind of place that just makes you want to be the best you can be, and I think that culture translates to how we work with clients. Skywalker was created to service George Lucas and his films, so in the end we are a “yes” company and very artist driven. It is a very creative environment.
My words of wisdom? Find a mentor, don’t try to do everything yourself, and say, “Yes.” Oh, and don’t make plans on a Friday night!
Audio Source: That’s great advice, and Skywalker certainly is a magical place that inspires creativity, productivity, and wellness. I know you enjoy making and sharing wine. What are your other interests and hobbies?
Leslie: I love food and cooking, spending time with friends, and going to concerts from Opera to Rosanne Cash.
Audio Source: You have a lovely work-life balance, and you’re an inspiration to all women. Thank you for your tremendous contributions to G.A.N.G. and the game audio community!
For over 15 years, Morla Gorrondona has been refining her craft as an actor with a focused discipline in Voice, Dialects and Performance Capture. Having earned a BFA in Theatre Performance from the historic University of Mississippi in Oxford, Morla has built an international reputation for excellence.
What started out as a childhood joy of mimicking and recording characters on a simple cassette recorder has over the years developed into a state-of-the-art VO creative service provider and consultancy with an impressive client list. Morla has been a student, mentor and leader within G.A.N.G. over the years, and continues to learn, share and grow with guidance and support from her peers, clients and teachers.
Audio Source: It’s great to catch up with you. You have been very vocal about the significance of G.A.N.G in your career. Would you please share your experience?
Morla: My route to acting in games wasn’t typical, especially for the time. While I had some experience in VO and a lot of experience in acting - my experience and knowledge of games before 2007 started with Atari 2600 and ended with SNES. When I decided to become an actor for games I knew I had a lot to catch up on and a lot of gaps to fill - so, I dedicated my time to learning about game development and more specifically game audio.
Joining G.A.N.G. allowed me to feel like I was a part of something long before I ever had a game credit to my name. It was enough that I showed up, cared about games, wanted to learn and grow and was committed. In G.A.N.G. I felt invited, I felt like I belonged.
I have wonderful early memories of G.A.N.G. Hangs in Capistrano, the G.A.N.G. website and its built in online community where we would discuss game audio related issues in the blogs and race to the top of the leaderboards in the arcade (Tetris was my favorite) and, of course, the G.A.N.G. Awards which has always felt like a family reunion. It’s in those places where I was first able to say “I’m an actor for games’’ and not have to explain myself or prove myself - I just was. I felt supported and encouraged, safe and welcome. And with that kind of foundation it’s that much easier to be brave and contribute. So, when I was asked to co-chair a branch of G.A.N.G. that was focused on Voice Over (the G.A.N.G. Voice Over Coalition or GVAC) - I felt honored and ready to give back. The same has been true when I’ve been asked to voice the G.A.N.G. Awards. That has been my continued experience with G.A.N.G. - it’s a place to arrive and grow and give backwhich causes you to grow and then allows you to give back more fully. And on and on as we ardently elevate what’s possible in game audio.
Audio Source: In what ways does G.A.N.G. continue to be a significance in your career?
Morla: G.A.N.G. allowed me to develop a new relationship with networking - to redefine and reimagine it for myself. Previously, the idea of networking felt fake and aggressive but necessary. Within G.A.N.G. I discovered how organic and genuine networking can be. I came to understand it as connective, inspiring and energizing. It could feel like making a friend, or joining a team. It could feel like a shared possibility. When networking began to feel like that for meit became easy and affirming to make it a pillar in my daily practice. It has made all the difference in the planting and growing of my career.
Additionally, it was a moment during a G.A.N.G. event that I credit as being the catapult of my career. It was at a G.A.N.G. Sound Design Demo Derby during GDC when after having heard Stephen Hodde
present for the first time I handed him my card and noted that even though the chances of our working together were slim (because he was in sound design and I was in voice over) I hoped that one day the opportunity would arise. Ultimately that moment turned into me voicing Eris Morn in Destiny and Destiny 2 - a role which continues to create opportunities for me.
More directly, Stephen and I work together to this day; 3 development teams, 7 launches, 13 years, nearly 15 voices and numerous awards later - we are colleagues and friends and family. None of that would have happened without G.A.N.G.
Audio Source: What is your daily practice?
Morla: Over the years I’ve learned it’s better to maintain than to try and pick something back up once you’ve put it down. So, I’ve developed a daily practice that is designed to keep me prepared, nimble, growing and centered. Every day includes designated time for vocalization of some kind. Sometimes that means warming up before a session or audition, other times that means stretching my range, or playing with sound design and exploring all the parts of my vocal apparatus that can make sound, and how I can change them to be pretty or ugly, warm or cold, powerful or weak or whatever I can think of. If I’m short on time I’ll carve out any brief moment I have - but when I can, I’ll let myself play for hours.
A lot of people are surprised to hear that voice over is incredibly physical. In a session my body is fully engaged and I’m exerting a lot of energy - it’s just done in such a way so as not to make sound. And beyond the booth there’s performance capture which, of course, calls for a full range of motion including flight scenes and on the lucky occasion embodying the strange contortions of creatures. So, it’s important that I dedicate time every day to being in my body. Most days that means yoga, but it can also mean dancing, kickboxing, running, walking … anything as long as it’s something. I also meditate to prepare for and envision
my day, read, and study a language (I’ve found it’s the best way to learn accents). Even if it’s just 5 minutes per each - it’s meaningful and makes my day feel rounded. And of course, networking and connecting with the community in some way whether that’s on social media or in person. So much of the work I do is solitary so not only is it smart to reach out - it feels good and fuels me with energy and joy to make contact.
Over the course of a week, though, my day can include taking any number of classes and workshops, meeting with my audition coach, bi-montly syncs with my agent, building and taking down my rig and adapting my work/performance space to the needs of the day, going to the range to gain an understanding firearms (so I can show up to a p-cap set already familiar with how to handle them), improv workout group, bi-monthly freeform workout group, weekly memorization accountability group, participating in and listening to podcasts and interviews, consuming lots of film, games
and pop culture and at different times in life meeting with a life coach and/or therapist. It can be a lot - but it’s not heavy. It feels like building trust within myself - like stoking a fire so I know I can burn as hot as I need to when I call upon myself to do so.
Audio Source: How do you get your gigs?
Morla: How I’ve gotten my gigs has changed a bit over time. In the beginning it was solely through networking and word of mouth. Eventually, once I secured representation some of the work came from auditions I received through my agent - and over time that has expanded to include rebookings and requests/offers. But throughout I have maintained responsibility for creating work for myself. There is a perception that once you get an agent you hand over the reins to your career - that it becomes the agent’s job to get you work. I don’t believe that to be true and even if that is the case for some I don’t want to be left out of that crucial part of my own future. It all comes back to networking.
Audio Source: How do you prepare for sessions?
Morla: Session prep for me starts at the very least the day before - earlier if I have an advanced copy of the script.
If I’m expected to be off-book I will spend a significant time just reading the scene(s) over and over again. At some point I’ll put the script down and move into a memorization phase. If it’s a monologue, that process looks like picking up and putting down the script until I can run through it three times without stumbling - then I take a break. If there are multiple voices in the scene I use an app designed for running lines. Within that the shape of the scene and ways of approaching it energetically, emotionally, physically, psychologically start to bubble. It’s important to show up to sessions informed and with ideas - but also to stay loose within those ideas as the development team/diretor may have different ideas.
Regardless of when I get the script, I’ve found I’m at my best when I cut out sugar, dairy
and wheat from my diet the day before a session. I also drink a lot of water and abstain from alcohol. Lots of sleep is essential. On the drive to the session I focus on breath expansion/capacity, warm my articulators and resonators and wake my full vocal range paying extra attention to the segment of my range I’ll be using most in the session. If I have a reference from an audition I’ll listen to that to get the voice in my ear and recreate it to get it in my body. Lastly, I usually have a song picked out that matches the vibe of the character I’m voicing that day, and so I spend the last 5-10 minutes before I walk into the studio sitting in my car playing the song (probably at full blast) absorbing the vibe of the character. I’ll use that song as a touchstone on breaks as well.
Audio Source: Aside from being an actor for games, what other experiences have you had that you weren’t expecting?
Morla: I really had no idea when I started in VO what the whole of VO encompassed. In fact, at the time of my very first VO jobI didn’t even know acting in games existed let alone that it would be the main thrust of my acting life. Since then I’ve broadened my understanding usually through the arrival of a job and meeting the requirements of that job. I learned about the existence of ADR on my first game when I had to figure out how to do it on the fly, I parsed out the differences between ADR and dubbing when I arrived at my first dubbing session, I understood what it meant to be in a loop group when I showed up for one day and I didn’t know people made careers for themselves being soundalikes for celebrities who don’t like to do their own ADR until I was hired to be one. Beyond that is learning how distinct the flavors of VO can be - the vast differences in styles of animation, the subtle and everchanging styles in commercials, the unlimited styles in games, promo, audiobooks etc. It’s an eternal and evolving education. I’m glad it is.
Learning about Performance Capture and Extreme Vocals were real inflection points
for me, though. I grew up on the stage. From my first performance in 2nd grade, to high school and community theatre, to graduating with a BFA in Theatre Performance to making a go of it in NYC - I was certain it was the stage or nothing for me. And while I was confident I made the right decision when I let go of theatre and focused on VO, a little part of me missed the particular kind of voicebody connection I got from stage acting. Performance capture brings it all full circle for me. It’s like arriving where you started but in a totally new place at the same time. It is my absolute favorite form of acting. Similarly, born out of my theatre training is my ability to do Extreme Vocals. Part of my degree requirement was intense vocal training specifically in breath support, economy of movement, voice placement and the ability to find release of tension in the vocal apparatus while engaging it. Combining this knowledge and ability with my endless curiosity of what-sounds-can-I-
make-today made the discovery of Extreme Vocals (creature/monster sounds, vocal sound design) incredibly exciting. Being able to project and contort my voice creating strange and otherworldly sounds while understanding exactly how to keep my voice safe and healthy is a very satisfying itch to scratch. It’s the job I always wanted but didn’t know existed until it showed up for me.
Audio Source: You’ve often said that G.A.N.G. feels sacred to you. Why is that?
Morla: It’s a place of possibility and growth. It’s an amplifier of new voices and promotes an abundance mentality where communication sparks ideas which creates change. I think there’s something a little mysterious and magical about that. We can’t quite put our finger on what makes those things real or determine if they even are real. There’s an awe associated with it.
Also, G.A.N.G. has gravity to it, association with it provides credibility and it represents achievement and professionalism.
It is a place where creativity and business meet seamlessly. There’s a reverence that comes with that. You put on your nice shoes to show up.
Personally, though it’s where I met my friends who also happen to be the people I get to work with. It’s speaking the same language and reminiscing and feeling like coming home at every G.A.N.G. event. But mostly it feels sacred because it feels like honoring where it all began.
Audio Source: You have a 10 year old son. Does he play any games you voice?
Morla: He does! Most of the games I voice are rated for over his age and are too intense for him to engage with just yet. But a few carefully selected exceptions are made, depending on the game.
Audio Source: What does he think about having a mom who acts in games?
Morla: It’s actually really funny because for the longest time it was absolutely no big deal to him at all. He cared more that I was the mom who showed up to read to his class on Tuesdays than that Game Informer named Eris Morn, one of the most iconic video game characters of all time. If you want to get humbled real fast - try convincing your seven year old you have clout. I joke, but seriously - he’s always been proud and interested and couldn’t care less about the stuff that comes along with it. And that’s exactly right. That’s how it should be.
The real benefit for him comes in the form of my enthusiasm for games. We’re a games family. I value games as an art form. I see him expressing himself creatively and establishing friendships and community (online and in person) through games. He learns a lot from them and oftentimes games will spark an interest in a subject that becomes a passion for him IRL. He also loves to dive deep into how a game is made or a game’s lore with developer and streamer friends I’ve made over the years - so, I’m always thrilled to set those in-person or Zoom opportunities up for him.
We also keep things very balanced activitywise through road trips and adventuring, LEGOs, NPS Junior Rangering and nature exploration, arts immersion, bedtime stories and so on. Bedtime stories reminds me that we even got to work on a game together! During Moss and Moss: Book 2, Polyarc gave me permission to read the advanced copy of the scripts to my little guy as his bedtime story. This helped me develop characters and prep for sessions. But moreover, it became this beautiful co-creating experience. He shared his insights and we workshopped character voices together. He changed the name of a character and the change stuck. We also both added a little secret hidden art to the game. I love all the ways we bond through games - but Moss was extra special.
Audio Source: What advice would you give your younger self at the beginning of your career?
Morla: Trust your gut. You’re right. Don’t take any of it personally. Keep showing up. Do the audition. Take the meeting. Start preparing earlier/sooner than you think you have to. Don’t put so much weight on other people’s opinions. Know yourself. Be yourself. That feels like such an overused piece of advice - but if I could I would drive the message home to my younger self that the thing that is gold is often the very same thing that feels like the thing you need to hide. Trust it is gold.
Audio Source: That’s great advice! Thank you for sharing your journey with us.
Self care has become more important to me now than ever before. As a professional creator, a husband, father and as a human being, self care and wellness have become a first line of defense for me and many others against the overwhelming anxiety and stressors we are all subjected to these days.
The absolutely most important thing is sleep. The recent science to come out about this subject has overwhelmingly proven how necessary eight hours of sleep is to our overall health and wellness. The second most important practice I do first thing in the morning is centering prayer meditation. The benefits have been overwhelming for me and I highly recommend it. Thirdly is proper nutrition which includes getting enough hydration.
If this topic interests you, I have recently published a talk I have given on the subject of Mental Health and Wellness on my youtube channel.- Tom Salta
Hildur Guðnadóttir and Sam Slater have worked together on many projects over the past six years. Each are independent artists in their own right, but regularly take the opportunity to collaborate with each other.
Audio Source: Hello, Hildur and Sam! Thank you for taking part in this interview. It’s wonderful to speak with you both.
Hildur/Sam: You too!
Audio Source: It’s been a whirlwind few years with the tremendous success of projects such as Chernobyl, Joker, and recently, Battlefield: 2042. Have you had any time to catch your breath or has it been full steam ahead?
Hildur/Sam: Indeed, it’s been rather full on but we have been breathing deeply throughout. If you have ever seen someone preparing to collect clams from the sea bed without an oxygen tank, you will have a reference for the style of breathing - intense, deep and deliberate, occasionally panicked yet ultimately energizing. :)
Audio Source: For Battlefield, how long was the process from kickoff to the launch of the game?
Hildur/Sam: The whole process took 18 months, from us starting to have broad aesthetic discussions with the sound team, to the final delivery before the first release of the game. It was a beautifully long-form process which took us through most of the
pandemic, and gave us a real grounding throughout such a turbulent period in the world.
Audio Source: Can you share a bit about the creative process as well as what your vision was for the score?
Hildur/Sam: Our vision ultimately rested on a simple idea, that we would use the materials most present in the levels themselves, for example rusted metal, sand, wind, glass etc. We would build chaotic, sound making systems in our studio in Berlin, and we would provoke them until they gave us strange, wonderful and increasingly unexpected sonic results which we would then fold back into the level itself. Our compositional principle was that we wanted the unpredictability of the environments in each of the levels to be part of the sonics too, therefore increasingly dissolving the lines between visuals, foley/ SFX and music - hopefully the result is a feeling the the entire environment is pushing you forwards, not just that someone has retrospectively slapped some “exciting string music” onto the game.
Audio Source: What’s the most unexpected moment for you that has come out of this project?
Hildur/Sam: As two composers more familiar with working in linear formats (film, TV, etc.) we both found the entire process of working out the game-music-puzzle really exciting - one must constantly ask how ideas relate to each other in a world, or piece of music, without a start or a stop. We have always enjoyed testing the limits of the format we are working in, and were constantly surprised as our understanding of game composition grew throughout the making of BF2042.
A good example is when Andreas (Almstrom, part of the music and sound team) asked us to change a sound which we had grown rather fond of. When we asked him why, he said that, unlike in a film where such a sound such as this can be panned to the right of the screen to create width and leave space for the dialogue, in a game it meant that all the players kept spinning around and running towards the sound as they thought something important was happening on their right. These simple but beautiful lessons in how to use sound to bring a world
to life were a constant joy throughout the making of the game and will reflect back onto our work in the future.
Audio Source: We want to extend a huge congratulations for being featured in the DICE at the Opera concert for Battlefield: 2042. This is such a prestigious honort to have your music performed by the Royal Swedish Orchestra at DICE’s 30th Anniversary. Can you share a bit about how this opportunity came about?
Hildur/Sam: DICE mentioned this plan a few months ago and we were very happy to join. We had been developing an orchestral performance of the score for the LA Philharmonic Orchestral and BBC Symphonic Orchestra and the conversation naturally turned to how best to stage a performance in
a multichannel and visually exciting format. The concert was truly spectacular!
Audio Source: How much of your music was performed?
Hildur/Sam: 14 minutes exactly!
Audio Source: Do you have any projects coming up that you can share with us?
Hildur/Sam: Aside from catching our breath, there are lots of things in the pipeline - please keep your eyes and ears peeled, and remain kind until we speak again.
Audio Source: Thank you again for speaking with us!
Gina Zimmitti is an L.A. native who now splits her time between California and Tennessee. She loves hiking and mastering the recipes of her Italo-Greek heritage. She’s mom to two amazing daughters and wife to builder/ designer Anthony.
For work, Gina hires the foremost Los Angeles and, as of 2021, Nashville studio musicians to record for film, television, and streaming scores, and to perform for live concerts. She manages scoring production on behalf of many of our field’s accomplished composers.
Nearly three decades into her career, she still feels privileged to collaborate with talent old and new and to help shape the sound of the score by inviting the right people into the right rooms. She is thankful for the journey thus far, and is excited to continue investing in the longevity and vibrancy of film music in innovative ways.
Audio Source: Let’s start by describing what a music contractor does.
ZMG: Zimmitti Music Group (ZMG) is a female-owned business with over thirty years of experience. We have creatively staffed offices in Los Angeles, CA and Nashville, TN. ZMG offers comprehensive support to composers and production companies. We contract the most skillful and experienced session musicians in the industry, manage composer scoring packages and music production budgets, and liaise closely with leading vocal contractors, scoring engineers, orchestrators, music preparation teams, and recording studios.
Audio Source: You’ve had a long and successful career as a music contractor. How did you get started?
ZMG: In my early 20’s I started as an assistant to Patti Zimmitti (who later became my mother-in-law) helping her with all administrative work for a Barbra Streisand world tour. I then began getting acquainted with the ins and outs of film scoring, and the whole music contracting process just clicked with us and the rest is history!
Audio Source: ZMG offers high touch client relations services. What does a composer get when they build a relationship with you and your team?
ZMG: When a composer’s ideas on the page are brought to life by musicians’ mastery of their craft, undeniable magic happens. At ZMG, we believe in being catalysts for new relationships among film music colleagues,
and nurturing long standing connections. We value people first, and enjoy the process of getting to know composers and helping assemble teams that function perfectly for them on each project.
Audio Source: Take us through your process when you get a call from a new client.
ZMG: We usually start simply by asking for information about the project and what they are planning on doing creatively. Then we talk details; how many minutes of music they need to record, where they’d like to score, what instrumentation they need, budgets and so on!
Audio Source: You’ve worked on many scores across all screens. Can you tell us about some of your projects?
ZMG: Our projects range from animated features such as Encanto or Luca, to live action features like West Side Story or The Lost City. We enjoy working on streaming shows like Star Trek: Discovery and recently, Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai.
It’s even more fun when projects later become live-to-picture concert events - Rocketman Live, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Danny Elfman: From Boingo to Batman to Big Mess and Beyond! You name it, we can help!
Audio Source: ZMG has taken contracting across state lines. Can you tell us about that journey?
ZMG: I don’t think it’s been done before, so of course that made it exciting! We had an idea that it would be amazing to try and capture some of the work that goes overseas by offering our services in Nashville! It certainly makes remote sessions more accessible, and most clients really enjoy the trip to Tennessee!
Audio Source: It sounds like you offer the best of both worlds with score recording sessions in Los Angeles and Nashville, and I’m sure the composers appreciate not having to wake up at 5 AM for a session overseas. It’s been a pleasure talking with you!
GameSoundCon – October 25 & 26, 2022 at Millennium Biltmore Hotel in L.A.
The Game Awards – December 8, 2022 at Microsoft Theater in L.A.
Society of Composers and Lyricists Holiday Dinner – December 6, 2022 in NY
Society of Composers and Lyricists Holiday Dinner – December 13, 2022 in L.A.
Society of Composers and Lyricists Awards Show – February 15, 2023 in L.A. D.I.C.E. Summit (AIAS) – February 21 – 23, 2023 in Las Vegas
D.I.C.E. Awards – February 23, 2023 in Las Vegas
Guild of Music Supervisor Awards (GMS) – March 5, 2023 in L.A.
SXSW - March 10 – 19, 2023 in Austin
Game Developers Conference (GDC) – March 20 – 24, 2023 in San Francisco
Game Audio Network Guild Awards – March 23, 2023 in San Francisco
BAFTA Games Awards – March 30, 2023 in Britain
NAMM Show – April 13 – 15, 2023 in Anaheim
NAMM TEC Awards – April 14, 2023 in Anaheim
ASCAP Experience – April 2023 @ Lowes Hotel in L.A.
LA Games – May 2023 in L.A.
Develop:Brighton - July 11 – 13, 2023 @ Hilton Brighton Metropole in Brighton
Develop:Star Awards – July 12, 2023 @ Hilton Brighton Metropole in Brighton
Guild of Music Supervisors (GMS) Conference – September 2023 in L.A.
At the Peabody Conservatory, you’ll learn what it means to be a modern artist, ready to take your place in the world and shape the future with sound. Our world-class faculty and resources provide the support and tools you need to develop and hone your talents. Beyond proficiency, a Peabody education will expand what you think is possible in the arts.
Peabody’s four-year Bachelor of Music degree in Music for New Media is designed to prepare you for a career composing for film, TV, and video games. If you are a strong musician with interests in composing, electronic music, music production, and recording, this program will help you lay the groundwork for a career in new media.
Building on the core courses of a Peabody degree – including composition, theory, ear training, and arrangement – you’ll study the fundamentals of music’s function within visual media and learn to work in industry-standard interactive audio programming environments, such as Wwise, Unity, Max, Kontakt, Massive, CC Automation, and more. Music for New Media majors also take Music Technology classes and Peabody’s Breakthrough Curriculum, which provides the entrepreneurial skills all 21st Century artists need today.
Our small class sizes allow students to receive individualized attention from the beginning of their studies. Weekly seminars by guest lecturers enable students to learn about the breadth of opportunities available, and to hear from working artists about the industry. Students are also able to take advantage of the many opportunities to collaborate with colleagues in the Baltimore community and beyond.
Qualified students may audition to double-major, or elect to take minor lessons. And as with other Peabody majors, it is possible to combine the Bachelor of Music with a bachelor’s degree from the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences or the Whiting School of Engineering by way of our double-degree program.
Applications are due December 1.
Learn more about our program at https://peabody.jhu.edu/music-for-new-media.
“As a student in the Technology and Applied Composition program, I have space in which to grow my compositional voice. I have become more confident not only in screen scoring and orchestration but also in the technological and business aspects of working as a full-time composer.”
—NATASHA FRANK Master’s Student · 2023
Technology and Applied Composition (TAC) Executive Director Taurin Barrera and Studio Manager Molly Monahan explain why SFCM’s Studio G stands alone in music education.
If you’ve ever wanted to experience the closest you’ll get to being physically inside of music, pay a visit to the Studio G mixing room, located two floors below Van Ness Avenue at SFCM’s pioneering Bowes Center.
Outfitted with a truly state-of-the-art Dolby Atmos speaker array—technology recently made more available to consumers with Apple’s new spatial-audio AirPods—it offers students an unrivaled opportunity to work at the edge of the next trend in audio.
A quick primer: Early recorded music was released in mono, which places audio at the “front” of the sound field. As the technology advanced, stereo recordings, where different elements of music are placed to the left, right, and center of a playback system, became the new standard. Increasing the number of speakers in a given system offers more opportunities for this: Dolby’s 5.1 Surround Sound technology, which the company pioneered in 1976 for use in film, has become one of the most common consumer-grade versions of the technology. (“5” refers to the number of “regular” speakers, while the “1” is the number of subwoofers utilized.)
With all that said, Studio G’s mixing setup has a 7.1.4 system, which adds to the conventional 5.1 array with two additional
speakers on the listener’s level and four arranged above them, quite literally adding a new dimension to the sound.
“When Studio G was built, there were things that we knew it would be capable of doing in the future, and fairly recently, companies have been making these technologies much more accessible,” Barrera explained. “The development of this technology is so rapid, and because of this facility we’re able to tap into that pretty much as it happens and present it to our students.”
“Historically when you’re talking about spatial audio, you had to have these huge decoders that look at the information encoded in the media and translate it to your speaker array,” Monahan added. “But Apple’s really been at the forefront of pushing spatial audio to consumers and it’s cool how much commercial momentum there is behind this technology, so it’s becoming less of a niche thing.”
TAC students have the opportunity to record in G’s Atmos Surround through the program’s longstanding partnership with Sony that sees students compose for video games. “Even the engineers at Sony get really excited for that because their studio doesn’t have the same setup we do,” Monahan added. SFCM students are quite literally positioned to work with the newest developments in the field, Barrera explained. “We’re particularly lucky because we’re right down the street from Dolby, where they’re building the Atmos tech. And we have our good friends at Meyer Sound right across the Bay.”
“I’m biased,” he concluded, “but I believe we have one of the best academic recording studios in the world.”
Learn more about studying technology and applied composition at SFCM.edu
“I’m very excited to be a part of G.A.N.G. as the Communications Manager! Meeting and talking to new people and learning from each other is such an awesome part of this community.”
“Our webinars are designed to share a variety of game audio topics with our members and the community. We recently launched a new VO series, and have many presenters lined up into the new year. Looking forward to seeing you online and in-person at an upcoming event!” - Lucas